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U.S. Energy Department to make researchers' papers free
Vladimir Menkov/Wikimedia

U.S. Energy Department to make researchers' papers free

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today unveiled its answer to a White House mandate to make the research papers it funds free for anyone to read: a Web portal that will link to full-text papers a year after they're published. Once researchers are up to speed and submitting their manuscripts, that will mean 20,000 to 30,000 new free papers a year on energy research, physics, and other scientific topics.

Although the plan will expand public access to papers, some onlookers aren't happy. That's because the papers will not reside in a central DOE database, but mostly on journal publishers’ websites. Open-access advocates say that will limit what people can do with the papers.

"The DOE's plan contains some steps in the right direction, but has some serious holes. Most critically, it doesn't adequately address the reuse rights needed for the public to do more than simply read individual articles," says Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). (The same gripes will likely apply to the National Science Foundation’s public access plan, which has not yet been issued but is expected to be similar to DOE’s.)

DOE is responding to a February 2013 memo from the White House directing federal research agencies to come up with a plan for allowing free access to taxpayer-funded, peer-reviewed manuscripts within 12 months after the paper appears in a journal. That would put agencies in line with the National Institutes of Health, which since 2008 has required its grantees to submit their accepted manuscripts to its PubMed Central archive for posting within 12 months of publication.

Many publishers dislike PubMed Central—they say it infringes on journal copyright and diverts readers from their websites, cutting into advertising revenues. With those concerns in mind, in its 2013 memo the White House didn't mandate that agencies establish a central repository but instead allowed them to devise their own plans for providing access to papers.

Under the DOE plan, people will find papers through a searchable Web portal called PAGES (Public Access Gateway for Energy and Science). The portal will contain each paper’s metadata—such as the title, authors, and journal issue—and will link to the full-text PDF. That PDF will either be on the publisher’s website, or if the publisher won’t share it after 12 months, at a repository run by the researcher’s DOE lab or university. Once the publisher is ready to make it freely available, the repository link will be replaced with a link to the paper on the journal's website.

In case papers disappear when a journal folds or a link breaks, DOE will also create a "dark archive" of the full-text papers. But this is only "an insurance policy" for individual papers; the dark archive will not be accessible to the public, says Brian Hitson, acting director of the DOE Office of Scientific and Technical Information. Linking to the final paper on the publisher’s site ensures that people find the “best version” with any revisions or corrections, DOE says. It also responds to the memo’s requirement that the plan be "as cost-effective as possible," Hitson says.

The beta rollout of PAGES contains about 6500 papers and abstracts only for some, Hitson says. As it grows, abstracts will be added. A requirement that DOE-funded researchers submit metadata and links for their papers goes into effect on 1 October. It will take some time to "socialize" scientists to the requirement and for papers to build up, Hitson says.

Many journals will provide the link through CHORUS, a coalition of commercial publishers and scientific societies (including AAAS, which publishes ScienceInsider). CHORUS is tagging papers with the funding agency so they can be tracked.

Open-access advocates such as University of California, Berkeley, biologist Michael Eisen slammed CHORUS when publishers announced the program last year. They prefer a full-text government archive like PubMed Central so it is possible to "text mine," or search across the entire body of papers. “Under this [DOE] plan, the public's ability to download, text/data mine, and digitally analyze these articles is severely limited,” SPARC’s Joseph agrees.

But Frederick Dylla, executive director and CEO of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and a board member of CHOR Inc., which runs CHORUS, says the group is “working towards” allowing full-text and data mining. At the same time, he says there is little demand for text mining. He says AIP has never gotten a request for its more than 1 million articles; Elsevier, the publishing giant, gets only about six requests a year, he says. Text mining journal articles is “a field that's just beginning," he says.